There are millions of scholarly articles offering a barrage of advice and how-to’s for managing employees. We test personalities, have team building activities, performance appraisals and one-on-one meetings. However, there is another, often overlooked dynamic that can be beneficial to the success of an organization: How do employees manage their boss?

“Boss management” is a concept that flips the traditional narrative on its head. The idea is that employees adjust to accommodate and best complement their boss. 

More people need to cultivate their “boss management skills.” This can be a challenge, especially because outside of wanting to keep a job, identifying and improving upon your boss’ strengths and weaknesses can be difficult. However, the payoff is huge, because helping your leader play to his/her strengths will ultimately help employee success and advancement. It’s a subtle art, but when conducted carefully it can be tremendously beneficial to the long-term success of the employee, boss and organization. 


  1. The first step in this process is to identify the boss’ strengths, pet peeves, passions, skills, values and philosophies. Recognize early on that while you’ll quickly be able to identify your boss’ faults, you probably cannot change them or help them overcome them. Shortsighted employees may prefer to criticize and gossip behind a leader’s back, rather than adjust to his or her style. A much better strategy is to use this knowledge to support your employer and make them more effective. 


  1. The next step is to acknowledge your own strengths. What do you excel at it? What do you like to do? It is important to identify these because it is likely that your boss will not have the same strengths. You may naturally possess the perfect complement to your boss’s management style.


  1. Finally, once you have identified your strengths and your employer’s interests/capabilities, put it all together. Find an area where you can significantly shore up your leader’s weaknesses. Maybe they are an excellent technical writer, but need someone to simplify and generalize their writing. Maybe they excel at starting projects and thinking of new ideas, but need someone to finish their projects and capitalize on their endeavors. That’s where you come in.

This is a subtle, intricate process that needs to be completed with care. Start out small. Make sure you have a good relationship with your employer. This can be done by overpreparing for every meeting, communicating clearly, showing your work and keeping your commitments/promises. After you establish yourself as reliable and hardworking, you can begin to offer advice and voice your opinion. This step is important as you work to have a favorable relationship with your employer. 

Most importantly, when it comes time for promotions or if you leader moves on to a new position, you will have a strong grasp of the skills to do the job and should be noticed.


Mary Louise VanNatta, APR, CAE is the CEO of VanNatta Public Relations a PR, Event Planning and Strategic Communications firm located in Salem, Oregon., @PRSalem.

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